[nextpage title=”Survival Kit”] Yes, we’re done with the elimination round of the season’s UAAP basketball. The Ateneo Blue Eagles are back in the final four, but the great new story is the National University Lady Bulldogs, who finished with a perfect 14-0 to book the automatic finals ticket and the thrice-to-beat advantage.
Today, let’s take a look at the women of UAAP basketball. One of three teams is going to get a shot at glory and break a team that’s so far proven itself unstoppable: the Far Eastern University Lady Tamaraws, the University of Santo Tomas Growling Tigresses, and the defending champions, the De La Salle University Lady Archers.
The 1st stage is the do-or-die game between the FEU Lady Tamaraws and the UST Tigresses. The winner of this match-up will then head to the 2nd stage to face-off against the twice-to-beat DLSU Lady Archers. Finally, the victor will then go to the boss round to face the unbeaten NU Lady Bulldogs, holding a thrice-to-beat advantage. [/nextpage] [nextpage title=”Stage 1: Do-or-Die”] Stage 1: FEU vs. UST
FEU (8-6): Key players:
Claire Castro (10.1 ppg, 11.1 rpg, 3.4 bpg)
April Siat (10 ppg, 9 rpg)
Angel Arellado (11.4 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 1.6 spg)
The Far Eastern University Lady Tamaraws sent a message to the rest of the league last week when they shut down the Ateneo Lady Eagles: the paint is ours. The towering inside duo of Claire Castro and April Siat held Ateneo center Danica Jose to a sub-par ten point output. Just check out their numbers. The 6’4 Castro is averaging a double-double 10.1 points and 11.1 rebounds along with 3.4 blocks a game, while power forward Siat is averaging 10 points and 9 rebounds a game. That means anyone who wants to take the game inside is going up a towering unit with the ability to put up a combined 20 points and bring down 20 boards. And there’s Castro’s 3.4 blocks a game. These two know how to get physical when it counts, contesting every shot put up against them and throwing around their size to bring down the board. Life isn’t going to be easy for anyone finding themselves in the shaded area with these two ladies. But their big women aren’t the Lady Tams’ only assets. Their leading scorer was Angel Arellado with 11.4 points per game. The main catalyst in FEU’s much improved transition offense in the second round also averaged 1.6 steals while hitting 41.2% percent of her three-point attempts. Granted, she only took seventeen shots in fourteen games according to the statsheet, but as those seven shots touched the net will tell you, you ain’t safe with her fingers on the trigger.
What really makes Arellado dangerous is her ability to cut into the inside for the sneaky lay-in and get into position for the fastbreak point after swiping the ball from the opposition’s hands. Arellado can also work well enough with other members of the FEU backcourt for the extra pass, Jacqueline Tanaman and Ana Valenzona, both threats from beyond the arc.
The case for UST (8-6):
Lore Rivera (15.9 ppg, 10.8 rpg, 1.6 spg)
Maica Cortes (11.4 ppg, 11.07 rpg)
Kristine Siapoc (7.7 ppg, 4.0 rpg)
Let’s start with Lore Rivera. Though she fell short of bagging this season’s MVP trophy, finishing at third, the most staggering display of scoring prowess would come from the UST veteran, who dropped thirty-six points against UP in the second round. The only other UAAP college baller from any gender to top that this season was men’s MVP Kiefer Ravena, who sank 38 in a first round thriller with UE. She can score from almost anywhere on the field, while managing to bring down 10.8 boards a game.
And then, there’s the centerpiece of UST’s fearsome frontcourt, Maica Cortes. Her 11.4 points and 11.07 rebounds a game are impressive, but what makes her a threat on the floor is her ability to use her size to explode in the paint, yet still manage to hit a couple of mid-range Js should the need for it arise. Despite the lack in size against teams like FEU and NU, the Tigresses have managed to work around the disadvantage by having some of the most physical and fastest players in the league. The result is a team that can shift from a run-and-gun offensive to a mean fullcourt press in the next play. They still manage to hold out their own in the paint, with athletic forwards like Rivera and Sofie Felisarta and the burly Cortes. And there’s Kristine Siapoc, who just loves shooting from the three-point line, and is pretty good at it.
The Lady Tams took the first meeting 57-56, while the Tigresses managed to pull through in their second meeting, 73-68. FEU again have height and size on their side, but with UST’s frontcourt making up for their lack of height with athleticism and a flexible offensive touch. Should UST’s inside unit find themselves struggling to put up shots against Castro and Siat in the high-post, they could easily shift to attack from the perimeter and pull away for the mid-range jumper. FEU could find themselves in trouble should the Tigresses find a way to drill in the baskets from the spots not covered by the Lady Tamaraws’ gigantic inside personnel. On the one hand, the Lady Tams could get ahead of the Tigresses by tiring them out. The run-and-gun and full court press UST leans on has worked wonders for them, but the toll it takes on their players is noticeable in every game. The Tigresses slow down after every big scoring barrage, giving their opponents time to fire back. The Lady Tams could get ahead by wearing out the fiery Tigresses and taking advantage of the ensuing lull in offense and defense. [/nextpage] [nextpage title=”Stage 2: the Defending Champs”]
Stage 2: De La Salle Lady Archers (10-4)
Trisha Piatos (12.2 ppg, 3 apg)
Nicole Garcia (6.7 ppg, 7.4 rpg)
Camille Claro (5.35 ppg)
And awaiting the winner of the FEU-UST bout are the defending champions the De La Salle University Lady Archers. Last year’s champs finished the regular season with the #2 seed at 10-4. They finished 6-1 in the first round, losing only to NU.
Of the top thirty-five players in the MVP race, seven players come from La Salle: Trisha Piatos, Nicole Garcia, Miller Ong, Alyanna Ong, Cass Santos, Camille Claro, and Inna Corcuerra. That means a fifth of the thirty-five most efficient players come from the same team. Whew. Compared to the other three teams, La Salle doesn’t look like they’re going to win a basketball championship. They’re short. They’re skinny. But they finished with ten wins. That means they’ve been pretty good, right?
This year’s Lady Archers thrive on the building blocks of a championship-worthy team. Intelligent shot selection, extra passing, everyone being where they’re supposed to be on the floor. Because of their incredible synchronicity and effective roster rotation scheme, they have no trouble adjusting offensively; they can run-and-gun, work the triangle and the wheel, go man-to-man, whichever offensive scheme the situation calls for. Excellent transition offense, efficient ball distribution, just what a team full of players in love with three-pointers and fastbreak lay-ups need. Watching a team stick to the fundamentals and play like they’ve known each other since birth is always so thrilling. Which brings us to the one thing the Lady Archers need to work on if they want to get their rematch with NU – defense. While their man-to-man has worked for most of the season, the three other teams are comprised of bigger and thicker players. While your typical zone probably isn’t the best option given their height disadvantage, the Lady Archers need to find a way to hold out against their bigger, rougher opponents. [/nextpage] [nextpage title=”Boss Round: the Unbeaten”]
Final Boss: the National University Lady Bulldogs (14-0)
Afril Bernardino (15.4 ppg, 8.6 rpg, 1.9 spg, 1.4 bpg)
Shelley Gupilan (10.9 ppg, 6 rpg, 4.1 apg, 1.3 spg)
Gemma Miranda (11.5 ppg, 8.7 rpg)
And finally, to the queens of the elimination round. It’s not going to be easy to break down how the National University Lady Bulldogs managed to get 14-0. Excellent coaching, twelve players working as a well-oiled machine, flexibility at both ends of the court, efficient offense, tough defense, speed, athleticism, talent, whatnot. I’ll just assume NU had all of these for the past two months. Now, here’s what one of those three other teams I mentioned is going up against in the next few weeks.
1. Three of the top five players in the season
MVP Afril Bernardino, Shelley Gupilan, and Gemma Miranda finished first, fourth, and fifth in the statistical points race. Bernardino finished with an amazing 15.4 ppg, 8.6 rpg 1.9 spg, 1.4 bpg stat line. The NU swingwoman is a threat anywhere and anytime on the floor. While attacking the basket, she can do things most guys can only do when they’re playing a video game. Also, the speed and athleticism that led to 1.9 steals and 1.4 blocks. Just wow. Shelley Gupilan plays the four, but can play the two and three. She can steal the ball from a halfcourt press and race down the court for the fastbreak. Those 4.4 assists a game are also pretty good for any power forward. Gemma Miranda is the Lady Bulldogs’ second-leading scorer, coming up big in NU’s close games during the elimination round.
2. Reliable back-up unit
The thing with La Salle and NU is that there are actually more than three discernible ‘key players’ on their line-up. Like La Salle, there are seven players on the NU roster who made the top 35 of the statistical points race. No surprise how they landed at the top two. Unlike La Salle, who rotate their players heavily and usually send in a different starting five every game, NU sticks to a starting five that usually consists of Bernardino, Gupilan, Miranda, Kristine Abriam, and Andrea Tongco. Like her frontcourt partner, Abriam can play the stretch but just as well can throw her size in the paint. Tongco meanwhile is a capable ballhandler and a serious threat from the three-point line. In the last elimination round matchup with La Salle, she managed to drill three trifectas in the third quarter in a span of around two and a half minutes. Coming off the bench are Trixie Antiquieria, Camille Escoto, and Ria Nabalan. When NU’s starters need to take some time off the floor, these girls hold their own. Antiquieria is a threat from beyond the arc while Escoto and Nabalan can both cut through the paint for the lay-in. When NU’s up by a great margin and coach Patrick Aquino wants to give the second stringers some playing time, these guys usually extend the lead for NU.
3. Excellent play at both ends of the court
Like their old foes La Salle, the Lady Bulldogs can switch offensive schemes should the need arise. However, while the girls from Taft opt for the extra pass, slashers like Bernardino and Miranda will probably go for the inside drive. They would probably also take less three-point shots, but are capable of delivering even more damage from inside the arc. On the defensive end, they can run a mean half court press, but can get rough enough to go toe-to-toe inside the paint. Their speed and size also come in handy when they go for the zone.
4. One solid unit
I’ve seen them before games. Before warming up, they sit together and chat and joke about like some college barkadas or campus clique. On the floor, that same oneness is replicated into the way they play. They may not always opt for the extra pass or find the open woman, but it always goes right and feels right. It’s like they know and understand the role each and everyone plays on the court. Everyone is where they’re supposed to be, taking the shots they’re supposed to be taking and guarding whoever they’re supposed to be guarding. Those three players who made the top five in the MVP race got there not because they just happened to be really good, but because they did what was expected of them. No one taking too many shots, no one trying to be the star at the most inopportune of times. And that’s what’s waiting at the top of the stepladder. Will someone finally break the Lady Bulldogs this season, or will the Lady Bulldogs hold out for the crown? Let’s see how it all goes. [/nextpage]